The Playstation 1 era was tough. I was 11 years old, I only got a little pocket money a week, and I still don’t quite get what this “saving your money” is all about. Games were hard to come by, and if I wanted to buy them they needed to last me a good long while. I churned through a lot of trash, London Racer was no hidden gem let me assure you, but that isn’t to say the PS1 wasn’t without its gems. Well, if I recall correctly, one game in particular had thousands of them. And I beat that game, no matter how many it had. Which game was that I hear you cry (though obviously not because this has already been written)? That, my friend, is the story of how I said goodbye to a dragon.
Spyro used to be awesome. No really, he was the best. The podgy purple protagonist of Insomniacs three Playstation 1 hits was without a doubt one of my favourite video game characters, and his games were a delightful mish mash of exploration, puzzle solving and the odd gimmick. Spyro was a class act, no two levels acted the same way, whether you were soaring around the cloud spires or dashing frantically through one of the games many speedways Spyro Year of the Dragon hit that pitch perfect level of keeping gameplay fresh with innovative new ideas being constantly sprinkled throughout. It also had thousands of gems. Thousands. I loved Spyro, I loved the graphics, I loved the soundtrack, I loved the multiple characters and the hidden bosses. I didn’t love the thousands of gems. The thousands of hidden gems. In every level. That I had to find.
Now don’t turn round and say “Hey, you didn’t need to find them, you chose to.” No. That’s not fair. Because if you found all 18500 gems you could fight the REAL final boss! At the end of the last cutscene in Spyro 3 you could see the Sorceress, the evil scheming antagonist of the game, pull herself from the lava. The 11 year old me couldn’t bear the thought of her living to steal the dragon eggs once more. I had to guarantee her end. So off I went on my quest, gathering all of the gems to unlock a final bonus area where I could eventually take down the infernal witch and bring to an end her vile plans!
It took me the best part of 3 months. I played no other game, I went into every level, seeking out every one of the glittering gorgeous gems, from the pitiful reds worth only 1 a piece to the invaluable purples, worth 25 a go! I scoured the land with not only Spyro but the assistance of Shelia the Kangaroo, Sgt. Bird the Penguin, Bently the Yeti and of course Agent 9, a monkey with a laser gun (perhaps a template for future games…) Sometimes I had great fun, discovering new challenges and quirky characters who’d been hidden away behind the designer’s cunning. Other times I wouldn’t have any fun at all, replaying those same said challenges over and over and listening to those quirky characters repeat the same lines of dialogue with each failed attempt. One especially sadistic piece of design involved Spyro charging nonstop down a suction tube filled with mines, any death sending me back to the start with no gems. When completed without failure the tube lasted 5 minutes. With repeated failure, well over 2 hours. I did not enjoy it at all, but when the eggs need protection, I must take up the mantle and do my duty.
Eventually, I did it. I gathered every gem, even after restarting due to losing one of the gems to a glitch. I unlocked the final boss. It took some doing too, after a rather tricky snowboard showdown and a little exploration I was finally taking the Sorceress down. In a UFO. With no voice acting. And no final cutscene. I was devastated. Not only was the final fight as lame as hell, it wasn’t even that hard, especially when compared to the task that led to the encounter. I cursed my foolishness to pursue such a pointless end, defeating the hidden boss achieved nothing, and the “Well Done” message delivered by Bianca served only as a bittersweet slice of patronisation. What kind of end to a game was this, a pitiful piece of piss poor peril followed by a half hearted hardly heard harassment? I was upset to say the least. I expected fireworks, I expected treasures and gold, I expected another level! Another level? After 3 months of striving away at the goal I wanted more? It was then I realised the true reason of my upset.
Despite the hardship, despite the irritating design in areas and the long winded nature of the goal, the truth was I loved Spyro 3. I loved it more than any other video that has ever been released. It was beautiful, charming, funny and fun. It let me run around fictional worlds as a dragon, as a penguin and even as a Yeti. It had filled my life for 3 months with unashamed adventure and a noble quest to strive for. So when the very final boss sank into the acid I realised that no ending could satisfy me. Any end to Spyro 3 was an ending I would be unhappy with, because it was just that, an end. If only one more level, if only one more egg to rescue, if only 10 more gems… but no. It was over. My months of work had ended and I had to return to my life elsewhere. But I knew deep down this wasn’t really the end, there’d be a Spyro 4, I’d seen it in magazines, Spyro was going to be on the PS2, he’d be bigger, better, with larger worlds and prettier graphics and… and…
When Spyro died I knew it wasn’t his fault. He was fine, it was Insomniac who had moved on. They were doing another game series, something about wrenches and clunking. Spyro just wasn’t theirs anymore, and as a result he wasn’t mine either. I couldn’t finish Enter the Dragonfly, who could? It was clunky, broken, ugly and just not Spyro. I missed Spyro. I still do. But then again I would because he had come to an end, and no end would be good enough. Because it’d be just that, an end.